GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — At a time when many restaurants are struggling after COVID-19 closures, Restaurant Week Grand Rapids is back, and more important than ever.
"It's going to be all new this year," explained Kate Lieto, Marketing Director for Experience Grand Rapids. "This [event] is one that we think we can do in a low risk way, as the restaurants are following the guidelines. And they really need our help right now."
The annual event is changing in light of the pandemic, and switching to a 'digital passport', allowing participants to "check in" to different establishments to earn prizes. There will also be special incentives to return, unique to each restaurant.
Lieto said they've already begun recruiting restaurants, and reaching out to more small minority owned businesses to attract a diverse group.
"We have eliminated the fees to participate, making it really easy for restaurants. And, then changed the format so they don't have to do as much with new menus and things like that from before," she told FOX 17 News. "So we're hoping to eliminate barriers so that all kinds of restaurants can participate."
"I do have almost 20 restaurants already signed on, so I know there's interest. The recruitment just opened for restaurants a couple days ago, so I anticipate that number to grow and I think we'll have a really good handful of restaurants that are ready to accept visitors at a low risk, minimize the risk way."
Like previous years, participants of Restaurant Week GR will be helping to pay it forward.
"In the past we've donated on behalf of the restaurants and our sponsors over $150,000 thousand dollars to the GRCC Culinary Institute," Lieto said. "This year, each 'check in' will be a dollar donation, and we're going to be donating that up to $5,000 dollars. So, as people are dining out they're also going to be contributing to a great cause and contributing to that scholarship fund, to help fund the next chef."
And regardless of which phase Michigan is in, in the fight against COVID-19, Lieto said Restaurant Week will go on.
"We're hoping that whatever the landscape looks like, we'll be able to support restaurants, whether that's outdoor dining, if we need to change things to a takeout promotion, we'll adjust as we need to. But we definitely know that we want to run the promotion, because those restaurants are really in a time of need and if we don't support them now and get them some business, we may not have that good food and dining scene that Grand Rapids has come to be known for."
Restaurant Week Grand Rapids runs from August 5-16th.
To learn more about Restaurant Week, or to sign up, head to their website.